Category Archives: Pointless Nostalgia Video

Internet Gauntlet Thrown: “You’re Gonna Win!”

When I love something, it’s usually due to a combination of factors, but I can always pinpoint one element and say, “This exemplifies why this is awesome.” Like how “Clowntime Is Over” might be the best song ever, but whenever I listen to it, I lose myself in how perfect the bassline is. Or like how The Jerk is an indisputable crowning achievement of 20th century comedy, as represented by the duet between Steve Martin and Bernadette Peters where she suddenly without warning breaks into a trumpet solo.

In this vein, there was an ad for Comedy Central that ran in the early/mid-1990s that was so intensely dark, non-sequitir-y, and perfect that it is the gold standard by which I judge such promos. And I do judge promos. Constantly. I’m judging even as I type this.

This commercial was shot in black and white. A prisoner is being led to the electric chair. Tight shots on his panicked face. Beads of sweat break out on his forehead. A priest gives him halfhearted last rites. He shoots a hopeful glance at the phone on the wall, hoping for a pardon. Nothing. He is strapped in. The helmet is put on his head. The clock ticks closer and closer to midnight. Any second now, he will pay for his crimes.

gonnawin.pngAnd all of a sudden, an acoustic bass is heard. The prisoner looks off to his left. The camera cuts to a corner of the room, where a jazz trio is performing; a vocalist, a drummer, and a bassist. The singer is a pompadoured hipster-crooner in sunglasses, singing right at the prisoner with exaggerated hand gestures the following lyrics:

You’re gonna win!
You’re gonna go!
You’re head of the pack,
You’re king of the show!
You’re on the move
Straight to the top
You’re way out in front
You’ll never stop!
You’re gonna win!
You’re gonna WIIIIIIIIIN!

Halfway through the song, the prisoner is smiling and tapping his feet. Yeah, everything’s gonna be okay! And it ended with the tagline THINK POSITIVE: COMEDY CENTRAL.

Everything about this ad was great, but the one detail that really got me was the trio’s drummer. He had this insane wide-eyed grin, almost Cheshire Cat-like, looking straight at the camera. It was monstrously funny. I used to draw little recreations of the trio in my high school notebooks. That’s how much I loved them.

This ad popped up in my head recently, so I decided to troll through the internet and look for it. Surely someone had captured its majesty in YouTube form so the entire world could enjoy it and make racist comments about it (since all YouTube videos, regardless of content, attract racist comments).

Well guess what, Internet? You have failed. Failed miserably. Because there is no video representation of this ad ANYWHERE on your series of tubes. For shame.

Sure, you can find later permutations of the ad, like one where a guy comes home to find his wife boning the plumber, and another where a guy takes a dive in a runaway elevator. Not good enough, internet. The death row ad was the ne plus ultra. You need to supply the original and you need to do it posthaste.

I have literally dozens of VHS tapes from this period with episodes of MST3K. It’s very possible one (or more) of them has this ad on it. But you know what? I’m putting the onus on you, Rest of the Internet. Haven’t I done enough to immortalize the commercials of yesteryear? “Yes,” says everybody.

So get on the stick, you guys. I want this thing on my desk after Thanksgiving or heads are gonna roll.

Pointless Nostalgia Video: BoKu

Commenting on yesterday’s McRib-related post, Brian Dermody had a trenchant observation about the resolute “1991-ness of the 1991” ad. There is something exquisitely early 90s about this commercial. The jittery teal lettering. The man’s Parker Lewis Can’t Lose haircut. His shirt with the Trapper Keeper-esque random geometric shapes. It’s like a heavily moussed time capsule.

Brian also invoked the memory of another ad campaign I had not thought of in quite some time: BoKu, starring Richard Lewis. Thanks to the standup boom of the 80s and a hit sitcom Anything But Love, co-starring Jamie Lee Curtis (well, a sitcom that was on the air, anyway), this was truly the golden age of Richard Lewis.

The neurotic humoredian parlayed his fame into a sweet gig for BoKu, a quixotic attempt to get adults to drink juice boxes. Of course, they didn’t call them juice boxes, and they didn’t have straws, but they were clearly drink boxes to any discerning eye. So who better to emphasize their adulthood than Richard Lewis, that paragon of early 90s grown-up-ness, the living embodiment of the I-don’t-quite-what’s-going-on-itude of this era.

These commercials are prime examples of why I like ads so much: because they perfectly encapsulate the era during which they were made. Ads are not meant to stand the test of time. They’re meant to be consumed, either consciously or subliminally, then discarded.

How could you understand the early 90s, the ennui of the First Bush years, the strange economic nervousness of the post-Black Monday years, the nascent rumblings of grunge, Generation X, and rave culture? An era that, to someone who did not experience it, doesn’t seem to have any characteristics at all? You could read a novel from this time, or watch a film or television show, and you might get a sense of it. Or you could watch this ad and know it in 30 seconds.

See? Now you don’t have to put season one of thirtysomething in your Netflix queue. You’re welcome.

Pointless Nostalgia Video: McRib

A recent tweet by Michael J. Nelson (of MST3K/Rifftrax fame) used a phrase that had, for me, nigh-Proustian implications. Its mere utterance was enough to bring flooding back a lifetime of memories, vivid and haunting. It was a syllable that had as much cosmic resonance as om or na mya ho ren gen kyo–perhaps more

The word: CHAWMP.

You may not have heard this word before (if it can even be called a word). That’s because it only existed for one very brief period, spoken by one lone visionary, and then disappeared into the ether from whence it came. And it only was heard in one, very special place: McRib commercials.

The McRib was basically a fake-pork sandwich (the kind you can now get in packs of ten at Sam’s Clubs everywhere) on a sesame seed hoagie roll with pickles and onions. (Amazingly, not fake Big Mac onion chiplets, but actual onion slices.) According to Wikipedia, the McRib was first introduced in 1981 in select locations. McDonald’s tried to make it a nationwide menu item in 1989, but soon abandoned this experiment.

Since then, it’s been reintroduced and rescinded in brief, tantalizing spurts, taunting lovers of meat byproducts and sugary barbecue sauce. I’m not here to extol the virtues of this sandwich, which was pretty awful. (I liked it as a kid, but I also liked fluffernutter as a kid, so there you go.) I’ve come to celebrate the memory of the ads, and its magical monotone mantra.

The premise of the ad: Mustachioed Dad buys some McRibs for a nice healthy family dinner. On the drive home, he feels tempted as their tantalizing smell wafts throughout his car and invades his every pore. What’s that, McRib? You want me to eat you? I really shouldn’t, but…oh what the hell, I’m not made of stone!

All actors must make choices. At each stage of a script, he must choose which path he will travel for whatever role he inhabits, be it Hamlet, Willy Loman, or the narrator harassing the McRib Dad. Those choices, as much as the words on the page themselves, create the work of art known as Theatre. ACTING!

I’m one hundred percent sure that the copywriters did not pen a script in which they asked a narrator to say CHAWMP, because why would anybody do that? No, this was a decision made by the narrator. “Mind if I do some improv?” he must have asked, and the guys in the studio, feeling adventurous, must have said, “Yeah man, just riff!” The result: GOLD.

Kudos to McDonalds (a normally conservative outfit when it comes to ads) for retaining this bit of weirdness in the commercial. That’s why CHAWMP remains tattooed upon my brain, much like the pizza guy from the Polly-o String Cheese commercial who says NUTHIN’? As does the narrator’s decision to say MACK-donalds and MACK-rib, which I found almost as bizarre/hilarious.

Even better, this 15 second ad-let in which the narrator says CHAWMP not once, but twice!

The man responsible for CHAWMP is Tony Joe White, best known for his 1969 hit “Polk Salad Annie” and not much else. But apparently he’s opened up for Creedence, Sly Stone, and Steppenwolf, and also appeared in 1973’s Catch My Soul, a rock-opera version of Othello directed by Patrick McGoohan (nothing about that sounds like it could be terrible!). So the man’s had quite an interesting career. However, CHAWMP is clearly the pinnacle of his art.

According to his web site, Tony Joe White is also known as The Swamp Fox, which could also be the name of an outboard motor, or a sexual act so depraved I cannot describe it here. Just thought you guys would like to know that.

I should add that I don’t know for 100 percent certain that Tony Joe White is responsible for CHAWMP. It’s not in any bio of his that I could locate online, and a Google search had no authoritative answers. But just listen to “Polk Salad Annie” and tell me that’s not the same voice. The first time I heard that song on the radio, I nearly drove off the road. “HOLY SHIT! IT’S THE MCRIB GUY! HE SAID ‘CHAWMP’!”

The only other possible explanation is that somewhere out there exists a masterful Tony Joe White impersonator. And that McDonalds sought this man out–20 solid years after Tony Joe White’s sole hit song was released. I find this possibility not only implausible, but also crushingly depressing to even contemplate.

For extra evidence, peep this video where Mr. White duets with Johnny Cash. Him and The Man in Black share a few sly drug references and also appear be, if not high, then enjoying themselves far more than they should be. Johnny also throws in quite a few CHAWMPS himself.

McDonalds knew the power of CHAWMP, at least at first. When the McRib was reintroduced in 1991, the ads used CHAWMP at the very end. Although without the golden pipes of Tony Joe White, the effect was muted, as you can see/hear in this example.

However, subsequent ads eschewed CHAWMP for other dumb schemes that don’t even warrant mentioning in this space. And perhaps it’s just as well. Why try to recreate such a masterpiece? Do you try to redo the Mona Lisa, or a shooting star?

Perhaps it is good enough that for one brief, shining moment, there was a CHAWMP.

Pointless Nostalgia Video: Malt Likka

Leapfrogging on last week’s journey into the depths of wine product, The Wife pointed me to an ad she remembered from her youth. In it, Urban Folk are urged to combine their own brand of wine product with grapefruit juice. Take a peek.

Yes, Thunderbird–renowned as the booze of choice for hobos, derelicts, and hopeless alcoholics–mixes well with grapefruit juice. Just pour it straight down the neck of the bottle. You know, just like all normal, non-transient people do. And make sure you shake it up nice and long. That’s not gonna spray everywhere the second you take your thumb out of the opening.

This ad hails from the difficult childhood of Ethnic Ads. Some time in the 70s, companies finally figured out that black people bought stuff and thus merited their own targeted advertising. But since they also didn’t figure black people merited actual jobs at these agencies, you got spots like the weird, quasi-racist one you see above.

Despite being the official sponsor of the DTs, Thunderbird was once considered classy enough to have James Mason for a spokesman. Yes, the star of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Lolita, and Heaven Can Wait, shilling for the booze whose very name screams Hey buddy, got some change? Although if you look at his filmography, it’s not too much of a stretch. Apparently Mr. Mason once guested on several episodes of something called Schlitz Playhouse. Of particular note, their performance of Paint Your Wagon (With Vomit).

All this talk of premium malt beverages reminded me of one of the worst ads I’ve ever seen. This ran in the early-to-mid 90s. It opened on a city street, obviously meant to look “ghetto”. And if that wasn’t a big enough cue, the viewer was also treated to a thugged-out guy sitting in a recliner, in the middle of said street. Next to his chair, a bucket of ice.

THUG: Some people, they take the bull by the horns…

[Cut to footage of rodeo rider. Cut back.]

THUG: But round my way, there’s only one way to grab the bull…

[Reaches into ice bucket, pulls out bottle of Bull Malt Liquor.]

THUG:…by the neck…

[Thug yanks recliner lever so the leg rest pops up. After very long pause:]

THUG: CHILLLLLLLLLLLL….

I couldn’t believe this thing ever aired. It was so racist and almost fear-mongering, I figured it was either written by the KKK or Lee Atwater.

I scoured the Internets for this all last night, to no avail. (I’m pretty sure I have it on a VHS tape somewhere, as I’m almost positive it ran during a late night showing of Mystery Science Theater 3000, but I have neither the time nor the stamina to search for it at this time.) Then I tweeted and facebooked about it, hoping folks might no what I was talking about.

No dice, but tweeter DonCheech did point me to this ad, which was in the same category of racisosity. All this ad for Schlitz Malt Liquor needs is someone shuffling off at the end, croaking “Feets don’t fail me now!”

Of course, the gold standard of malt liquor commercials were the smooth moves laid on by one Mr. Billy Dee Williams when he shilled for Colt 45 in the 80s. I shan’t post any of those ads, but I will show you this clip from the AMAZING Looney Tunes 50th Anniversary Special that ran in 1985. In it, various celebrities spoke of Bugs, Daffy, et al as if they were real actors they’d worked with (Bill Murray’s segments were especially transcendent).

In this clip, Billy Dee is clearly playing off of his Colt 45 ad persona. His little hand gestures and quiet smiles at the cacophonous music of Carl Stalling is a triumph of understatement.

Pointless Nostalgia Video Presents: Harvey’s Bristol Cream

I believe that hate, like love, is within all of us, and that we have a need to hate as much as we have a need to love. It can be a cleansing, cathartic emotion, as long as it is expressed in a healthy, non-violent fashion.

Assuming this is true, why do we hate certain things? Is it nature or nurture? Would you hate the same things you hate if you were born in Morocco, or Bavaria, or Upper Mongolia?

I can’t answer that for certain. My gut feeling is that there are certain things I would not hate if I came from a different background, simply because I wouldn’t care about them. My vitriol for Chipper Jones and Roger Clemens would probably be diminished if I was born in Sri Lanka and had no interest in baseball.

But there are other things I am certain I would hate no matter what, because they are so eminently hateable, they transcend culture, race, and creed. I shall discuss one of them today.

First, some background: The 1980s gave us many, many bad things, one of which was the proliferation of Wine Product. Not wine, but not not-wine, either. This led in turn to the Wine Product commercial, which came in varying shades of horrible.

For instance, the Bruce Willis Seagram’s ads, made at the height of his popularity and ubiquity. I hesitate to even call them bad because, as is the case with pretty much everything he’s ever done, Bruce seems so self-conscious of his own smug brand of douchery. His every smirk silently communicates, I know this is all bullshit. I almost have to admire him.

These ads, however, are not the focus of this post (and probably deserve their own analysis, which we may get to at a future date). The commercial I have in mind belongs to a different category of Wine Product, the kind that actually tried to masquerade as wine.

Back in the 80s, you still couldn’t advertise straight-up, non-beer booze on TV. But you could run ads for this type of alcoholic beverage. The kind of cheap, wine-esque swill you still see in supermarkets and bodegas.

The affordability of these products was never emphasized in any way. In fact, the bottlers went to great lengths to insist that their stuff was enjoyed by jet setting glitterati. Remember, this was the same era as Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, when people actually watched a show that did nothing but remind them how many wonderful things they could never have. (Jesus, the 80s were gross.)

A prime example: This ad for Riunite, in which rich young things ski down the slopes grabbing bottles of Riunite as they slalom, on their way to a mountaintop barbecue.

Even as a kid, ads like this angered me. There was something so venal about trying to sell something so cheap (in several senses of the word) as a ticket to affluence to the poor slobs who could afford no better. And in retrospect, it seems even more gross, as the 80s were the decade when the American working class took its last gasp before a slow extinction.

But this Riunite commercial isn’t the object of my hatred. There was one ad that stood out, one that filled me with an absolute, undying, white hot hatred I still have to this day. 

Truth be told, I couldn’t even remember what product this was for, until I tweeted about it yesterday and received a link from WFMU’s own Evan “Funk” Davies (who can be heard tonight and every Wednesday at 9pm). Turns out, it was a commercial for Harvey’s Bristol Cream, and it is every bit as infuriating as I remember.

There are many, many things to hate about this ad. The jingle is terrible. The weird, contrapuntal spoken word duet part in the middle of said jingle (“upper crrrrusty!”) is nauseating. And the guests at the party look like a second grader’s idea of Rich Fancy People. But what really pushes my feelings into the realm of Super Hate is the last line, and the Patrick Bateman-esque bastard who says it, in his fake Pierce Brosnan accent.

The last line of this ad has rung in my head for the last 20+ years. Just hearing it is like a boxing bell, making me jump up with my fists clenched, ready to start swinging. If I ever found the man who uttered it–or better yet, the ad wizard who wrote it–I would pummel this man with all my might, and I would not stop until someone pulled me off him.

Here it is, folks. Brace yourselves.

“Your palace or mine.” Ugh. Go die, Anonymous Smug Guy.

Pointless Nostalgia Friday Presents: Polly-O String Cheese

Who can say what forces shape us? We are often the prisoners of our times. One’s future could be shaped by simply being at the right place at the right time—or the wrong place at the wrong time. Have you ever thought about what might have influenced your life if you were born during a different age? The Renaissance? The Civil War? The Great Depression? Who can say what heights you may have climbed, or to what depths you may have sunk?

Me, I haven’t thought about this conundrum much, because I was born during the Age of Advertising, and thus have a miniscule attention span. I’ve said this many, many times here at Scratchbomb, but I have been immensely influenced by commercials. I feel like they’ve rattled in my brain my entire life. Anyone who says they are not influenced in any way by ads is deluded or lying.

When you’re a kid, you find many things funny that you don’t as an adult. Specifically, other people. Adults won’t just laugh in random people’s faces, but kids will. They can laugh for hours about somebody they see in the street with a weird haircut or dumb hat on. And if the same person also says something weird, in a weird voice, forget it.

I was reminded of this cruel fact of kid-hood when Joe Randazzo of the Onion tweeted a link to this commercial for Polly-O string cheese (the most needless and unasked for food innovation of all time until pancakes and sausage on a stick). This ad ran for roughly 8 billion years during my childhood, but despite its ubiquity, me and my brothers always found it funny. Always.

Why? Because of the wizened old man who says NUTHIN? The way he said this, combined with his wrinkly face—he looks like a slightly melted candle, or a shar pei—was comedy gold to us.

If you’re seeing this for the first time, or were not as struck by it as I was as a kid, I don’t expect you to think it’s funny. I wouldn’t either, if I hadn’t spent my entire childhood laughing at it.

Watching this ad an adult, I am struck by a few things.

  • Check out the odd posters hanging from the wall, that almost give it a Sedelmaier feel. I particularly like the one that bizarrely reads NO SCREAMING.
  • The guy behind the counter who yells at the old wrinkly man calls him “Shimmy”. Obviously, he was trying to say “Jimmy” and failed. But Polly-O wasn’t gonna shell out for more than one take or overdubbing in post. So there it sits, “Shimmy”. My brothers and I found this quite hysterical. HIS NAME IS SHIMMY! WHOSE NAME IS SHIMMY?!
  • Is cheese really the best part of the pizza, as this ad insists? That’s a matter of opinion, of course. But I think I’d rather have a whole slice of pizza than any one individual part of it. I like pizza, but I never get the craving to drink a cup of a tomato sauce on its own. In fact, cheese is probably the worst part of the pizza, nutritionally speaking.
  • I now realize that all Polly-O string cheese really did was make it acceptable for you to chomp down on a huge chunk of fattening mozzarella at lunchtime. It’s like having individually wrapped pudding cups filled with foie gras.
  • At the end of the ad, the kids taste the string cheese and give it glowing praise in foreign languages. But only the first kid says something in Italian (“Bellissimo!”). The last two say French expressions. (“Magnifique!” and “C’est si bon!”) C’mon, Polly-O, you’re making mozzarella and you don’t know the difference between Italian and French? Your handlebar-mustachioed ancestors are spinning in their graves.

Holiday Triumphs: More Adtacular! Halloween, 1985

Continuing my pointless quest to digitize every 80s ad I possess, I present this latest collection of commercials from The Vast and Dusty Scratchbomb VHS Archives. The latest batch comes from a tape with material recorded right around Halloween, 1985. Why am I presenting Halloween materials when we’re so close to Christmas? Because many of these ads have holiday relevance. And because I lump Halloween into that Drive To XMas Season. And because SHUT UP IT’S MY STUPID SITE OKAY?!

This first ad definitely has Christmas significance. In it, Alex Karras (aka Webster’s dad) informs parents that they better rush down to their local toy store NOW if they want to get some decent Transformers for the kiddies come December 25. This ad aired very close to Halloween, meaning there were at least seven weeks left until The Big Day. Just in case you thought retailers jumping the gun was a recent phenomenon.

It also features Webster’s dad lip syncing to “robots in disguise”, thus putting it in my top 10 favoritest ads ever.


Continue reading Holiday Triumphs: More Adtacular! Halloween, 1985

Pointless Nostalgia Bonus: MTV Ads!

As I explained in a recent, similar post, I love commercials. There, I said it. Oh, that felt so liberating.

This latest bout of Pointless Ad Nostalgia comes courtesy of the episode of 120 Minutes from 1991 that contained a lengthy, uncomfortable interview with The Pixies. What’s different about these ads vis a vis the Steampipe Alley-era ads I just posted? Well, there’s the three years difference, a small eternity in ad-time.

More importantly, since these ads aired on MTV late at night, they’re pitched at a much older audience. A fashion-conscious audience that would be receptive to a commercial like this one for Cavaricci. That brand has all but disappeared, but when I was in junior high, everyone had to wear Cavaricci. If you had enough money to buy it, that is. If you were me, you wore generic jeans and whatever was on sale at Caldor’s that season.

Why was Cavaricci so popular? Why is anything so popular at any give time? But if this ad is to be believed, they made you very limber and a snazzy dancer.


Continue reading Pointless Nostalgia Bonus: MTV Ads!

Pointless Nostalgia: The Pixies on 120 Minutes, 1991

As I eluded to last week, when I found the bounty of Steampipe Alley tapes, I was looking for something else. That something else was an episode of MTV’s 120 Minutes from 1991 that featured an episode-long appearance by The Pixies, mere months before they broke up.

When this show aired, I did not actually have cable in my house. But my grandparents, who lived next door, did. So I would monopolize their VCR in the wee hours, taping either Mystery Science Theater 3000 or 120 Minutes. Despite being an MTV product, 120 Minutes was a pretty decent window into the amorphous world of “alternative” music back then, and also the only way that I could hear about new-ish stuff in the pre-internet days, since I lived nowhere near a cool records store.

This particular episode is an odd time capsule piece, because it comes from one of those in between periods of music. The indie music scene that launched The Pixies was largely dead. The Nirvana phenomenon had yet to begin, although it was just about to (the video for “Smells Like Teen Spirit” aired during this episode, and had just debuted a few weeks previous). So in most cases, alternative = British. By my rough estimate, 75 percent of all the videos that air in this episode come from English bands, most of them being shoegazer types like Ride, Curve, Lush, etc.

But my main reason in presenting these clips to you is not to highlight this very brief era. I’ve digitized them because they’re some of the most uncomfortable video you’ll ever see.

For one thing, The Pixies were already well immersed in the tensions that would doom the band. But rather than exercise that misery on each other, they aim it squarely at the show’s host, Dave Kendall. The poor man has to dig and scrape to get the most mundane answers out of them.

This first clip is benign enough. The band is introduced, and Frank Black talks briefly about the inspiration behind the “Here Come Your Man” video. But the fact that he’s wearing a panama hat and sunglasses for this interview should have thrown up some huge red flags. As should have Joey Santiago’s weird fuzzy hat.


Continue reading Pointless Nostalgia: The Pixies on 120 Minutes, 1991

Pointless Nostalgia Bonus: Ads! Ads! Ads!

One fringe benefit of discovering the Steampipe Alley tapes (other than being able to expose the world to the genius of Mario Cantone): they were also full of some “classic” ads from yesteryear. Anyone who reads this site with any regularity will know that I have a thing for old commercials. Because I think commercials say a lot more about their respective eras than other media do. After all, art wants to be timeless, but ads are aimed at The Now.

These ads are even more special to me. Why? Because they ran on WWOR, an independent station. So the spots are a little cheaper and a little more home grown.

I realize that many of the ads you’ll see below only resonate with me because I remember them from being a kid. I’ll cop to that. Because if you can’t indulge yourself once in a while, you can you indulge, really?

For instance, this spot for Young People’s Day Camp. This ad ran, virtually unchanged, for my entire childhood. The narration, music, and footage stayed the same for at least ten years. I imagine their PR/marketing department was run by one tyrannical, crusty, cigar-chomping veteran who refused to acknowledge that times change. “Look, the ad worked in 1979, it’ll work in 1995. Why shouldn’t it?!”


Continue reading Pointless Nostalgia Bonus: Ads! Ads! Ads!